Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who until last month, was the first and only elected female Head of State in Africa, has once again scored another first becoming the first female awardee of the much-talked about Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership for the year 2017.
The venerated (US) $5 million Prize is awarded to former African executive heads of state or government who have left office during the last three calendar years, having been democratically elected and served their constitutionally mandated term.
In a continent fraught with long-term, overstaying presidents and routine leadership quests to change constitutions to extend presidential term limits, it has meant that there have been times this has impacted the honouring of the Prize. For four times since its launch in 2006 the Mo Ibrahim Foundation had failed to find a winner, in 2009, 2010, 2015, and 2016 – last awarding the Prize to former Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba back in 2014.
The Ibrahim Prize recognises and celebrates excellence in African leadership, by distinguishing leaders who, during their time in office, have developed their countries, strengthened democracy and human rights for the shared benefit of their people, and advanced sustainable development.
Explaining why they failed to find a winner last year the chairman of the Prize Committee Dr Salim Ahmed Salim stated then: “ I emphasise each year, a very high bar was deliberately set when the Prize was launched… We recognise and applaud the important contributions that many African leaders have made to change their countries for the better. But the Prize is intended to highlight and celebrate truly exceptional leadership, which is uncommon by its very definition.”
The Prize Committee found that, confronted with unprecedented and renewed challenges, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf demonstrated exceptional and transformative leadership…and laid the foundations on which Liberia can now build
And announcing the new 2017 honoree Dr Salim said: “Ellen Johnson Sirleaf took the helm of Liberia when it was completely destroyed by civil war and led a process of reconciliation that focussed on building a nation and its democratic institutions. Throughout her two terms in office, she worked tirelessly on behalf of the people of Liberia. Such a journey cannot be without some shortcomings and, today, Liberia continues to face many challenges. Nevertheless, during her twelve years in office, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf laid the foundations on which Liberia can now build.”
The former Liberian president who served two terms and did not seek another term and has since been succeed by former football start George Weah following elections last year’s elections in which he eventually beat Johnson Sirleaf’s Vice President Joseph Boakai.
In 2011, Johnson Sirleaf was a joint winner of the Nobel Peace Prize together with her fellow country woman Leymah Gbowee and Yemeni journalist and rights activist Tawakkul Karman, who were all awarded the Nobel for their “non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”
She becomes the fifth recipient of the Ibrahim Prize. Others before her being Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia (2014), Pedro Pires of Cabo Verde (2011), Festus Mogae of Botswana (2008) and Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique (2007) as an Ibrahim Prize Laureate. Nelson Mandela was made the inaugural Honorary Laureate in 2007.
In its citation, the Prize Committee praises Johnson Sirleaf for “her exceptional and transformative leadership, in the face of unprecedented and renewed challenges, to lead Liberia’s recovery following many years of devastating civil war.”
Johnson Sirleaf became President of Liberia on 16 January 2006, after winning the 2005 national elections. She served her first term 2006-11 and was then successfully re-elected for a second term, serving in office 2012-17. Since 2006, Liberia was the only country out of 54 to improve in every category and sub-category of the Ibrahim Index of African Governance. This led Liberia to move up ten places in the Index’s overall ranking during this period.
On hearing the outcome of the Prize Committee’s deliberations, founder of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation – the Sudanese business mogul Mo Ibrahim expressed joy at the choice of the former Liberian leader saying: “ I am delighted the Prize Committee has decided to make Ellen Johnson Sirleaf an Ibrahim Prize Laureate. In very difficult circumstances, she helped guide her nation towards a peaceful and democratic future, paving the way for her successor to follow. I am proud to see the first woman Ibrahim Laureate, and I hope Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will continue to inspire women in Africa and beyond.”
The Ibrahim Prize is a US$5 million award paid over ten years and US$200,000 annually for life thereafter. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation will consider granting a further US$200,000 per year for ten years towards public interest activities and good causes espoused by the Ibrahim Laureate.
Johnson Sirleaf will formally receive the Prize at ceremony during the MIF annual Governance Weekend taking place in Kigali – Rwanda in April.
Below is the full Citation of the Prize Committee of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation:
The Prize Committee of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation announces that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia, is the 2017 Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership Laureate.
The Prize Committee found that, confronted with unprecedented and renewed challenges, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf demonstrated exceptional and transformative leadership.
She took over a country that was devastated and broken by 14 years of civil war, and was later struck again by the Ebola crisis.
Such a journey cannot be without some shortcomings. Today, Liberia continues to face many challenges.
Nevertheless, during her twelve years in office, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf laid the foundations on which Liberia can now build. In the process, she restored Liberians’ dignity and pride in their country.
Throughout her time in office, she staunchly maintained her priorities and her determination to succeed on behalf of the people of Liberia.
Since 2006, Liberia is the only country, out of 54, to improve in every category and sub- category of the Ibrahim Index of African Governance.
From 2006 to 2014, before the Ebola crisis hit the country, the Liberian economy grew at an average annual rate of over 7%.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf endured imprisonment, exile, and personal risk on the road to leadership, and yet persevered in her demand for honest government for her people.
She courageously embraced opponents and fought for generational change, and paved the way for her successor to follow.
Her achievements have inspired and given confidence to millions of women in public service.
Apart from her leadership in her country, she has always been a champion for Africa. Her success is Africa’s success and testament to the power of exceptional leadership.
Today, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf stands tall in victory, as the recipient of the 2017 Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership.